Red Snapper Distribution on Natural Habitats and Artificial Structures in the Northern Gulf of Mexico

<p>In 2011, an intensive, multiple-gear, fishery-independent survey was carried out in the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) to collect comprehensive age and length information on Red Snapper <i>Lutjanus campechanus</i>. Based on this synoptic survey, we produced a spatial map of Red Snapper relative abundance that integrates both gear selectivity effects and ontogenetically varying habitat usage. Our methodology generated a spatial map of Red Snapper at a 10-km<sup>2</sup> grid resolution that is consistent with existing knowledge of the species: Red Snapper occurred in relatively high abundances at depths of 50–90 m along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana and in smaller, patchy “hot spots” at a variety of depths along the Alabama coast and the west Florida shelf. Red Snapper biomass and fecundity estimates were higher for the northwestern GOM than for the northeastern GOM, as the latter area contained mostly smaller, younger individuals. The existence of similar surveys on petroleum platforms and artificial reefs also enabled us to calculate their relative contribution to Red Snapper distribution compared with that of natural habitats. We estimated that for the youngest age-classes, catch rates were approximately 20 times higher on artificial structures than on natural reefs. Despite the high catch rates observed on artificial structures, they represent only a small fraction of the total area in the northern GOM; thus, we estimated that they held less than 14% of Red Snapper abundance. Because artificial structures—particularly petroleum platforms—attract mostly the youngest individuals, their contribution was even lower in terms of total population biomass (7.8%) or spawning potential (6.4%). Our estimates of Red Snapper relative abundance, biomass, and spawning potential can be used to design spatial management strategies or as inputs to spatial modeling techniques.</p> <p>Received January 1, 2016; accepted October 28, 2016</p>